'I was just super happy': Grieving mother celebrates Nathan's Law

Posted at 5:50 PM, Apr 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-27 09:24:58-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Lexington mom Stacey Burnett got the worst news of her life last year. She was told her 18-year-old son died during an out-of-state snowboarding trip.

She said what made that terrible news worse was how a deputy coroner with the Fayette County Coroner's Office told her about it.

"It just seemed very unprofessional and cold," Burnett recalled. "And it made us feel disregarded."

After that, she fought hard for Nathan's Law to pass so no other family would have a similar experience.

On April 8, Governor Andy Beshear signed it into law.

It has several requirements for coroners and deputy coroners when it comes to death notifications:

  • Give death notifications verbally, in person, and respectfully
  • Emergency medical assistance must be on standby
  • A second person must be there to help
  • A follow up with a family member must happen within 48 hours
  • Coroners and deputy coroners must complete a four-hour grief training course

LEX 18 called Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn, who said he did not want to get into a "he said, she said" situation about what happened with Burnett, but he did offer sincere condolences and said the new law has his full support.

The Kentucky Coroner's Association also backs Nathan's Law.

"I don't see any negatives for this bill," KYCA executive director, Jimmy Pollard, said. "I don't."

Pollard said he especially likes how coroners have to reach back out to a family within 48 hours.

"Talk to them, let them know what's going on, where you're at with the investigation if there is an investigation, just staying in contact," he said. "We like that real well."

He also likes how it requires a unified way of delivering death notifications across the state.

"When you have to call a coroner in Western Kentucky and say, 'hey, I have a family member that needs to be notified down there', you know that the coroner knows what to do and to do it properly," he said as an example.

He noted that one of the biggest challenges of the law will be asking EMS to be on standby in rural areas. He said when you do that in small towns, the word may get around about the death before a next of kin is notified.

But overall, he says he's glad Nathan's Law was passed.

Pollard said he has already sent the new law out to coroners and deputy coroners across the state so they can start implementing it when it goes into effect on January 1, 2023.

He also said about 90 coroners and deputy coroners already received their four-hour grief training for death notifications during a recent coroner's conference.

Burnett hopes that as a result of this law, all Kentucky families will feel informed and cared about when they receive a death notification. She hopes they will feel it was delivered in a way that respected the life lost and the emotions the next of kin is going through.

"Our biggest hope is that other families will have a little bit more peace when they get terrible news," she said.

Bill sponsor Senator Ralph Alvarado is also optimistic about how this new law will affect the way families receive death notifications. He said there are no criminal penalties if the law is broken, but that the public could hold coroners accountable since they are elected officials.